Everyone I talked to said the same thing — spend as little time in Guayaquil as possible.
I took their advice into consideration, and did the opposite by purposefully spending a long weekend in Ecuador’s largest (and arguably, most dangerous) city.
Despite Guyaquil’s size, it’s got very few hostels. I booked a hotel in the city center, a few blocks from the riverside.
The good news for tourists visiting Guayaquil, either en route to/from the Galapagos Islands or the Pacific Coast, is that there’s just enough to do to keep you busy for 24 hours.
Stay longer, and it might help to have some friends in town.
Visiting Parque Seminario (aka The Iguana Park)
It just so happened that my hotel was located adjacent Parque Seminario, also known as Iguana Park on account of the land iguanas that hang out there.
The idea of giant lizards hanging out in an urban park struck me as odd, and piqued my curiosity.
It’s as surreal in person as it sounds. Giant land iguanas mingling with pigeons. Being fed by locals and tourists alike, and lounging in the grass.
During your visit, you can also take a peek inside a large cathedral opposite one side of the park.
Walking the Malecon 2000
From Parque Seminario, it’s just a three block walk to the Malecon 2000, a major urban renewal project along the old Simon Bolivar boardwalk.
The Malecon runs one and a half miles along the riverside in the city center, and is best walked in the early morning, or late afternoon, when the sun isn’t so strong.
Between both the fencing that separates it from the street, and the strong showing of security guards, the Malecon is generally safe to walk both day and night.
That said, it’s still best to exercise precautions, and not walk alone past dark.
The southern section of the Malecon features a modern, underground mall and a few restaurants.
The middle is filled with historical monuments, parks, and places for kids to play.
And at the north end, you’ll find an IMAX theater and several museums.
Dinner & Drinks in Las Penas
If you choose to walk the Malecon 2000 in the early evening, start in the south so you end up in Las Penas for happy hour.
This historic and colorful neighborhood is home to a variety of shops, bars, lounges, and restaurants.
Walk the 400 numbered stairs to the lighthouse at the top and you’ll be treated to expansive views of the city, as well as a little exercise.
You can easily wrap up the night here, especially on the weekends, with dinner and dancing.
Las Penas, like the Malecon, is generally safe at night.
There are plenty of taxis waiting on the main street near the entrance for when you’re ready to call it quits.
Most visitors to Guayaquil will spend their time by the riverside, however it’s also worth noting that there are several modern shopping malls in the north, near the airport and bus terminal.
These malls, including San Marino and Mall del Sol, feature department stores, as well as plenty of smaller shops and boutiques.
The restaurants range from TGI Friday’s to more upscale options, serving fresh sushi and ceviche.